Union prez: Players will accept Sam

Updated: February 10, 2014, 9:15 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth thinks that NFL players will accept Michael Sam "with open arms."

Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Missouri, said Sunday that he is gay during an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines."

Assuming he is drafted in May, Sam would become the first openly gay player in NFL history.

Foxworth said during an interview with ESPN's "Mike & Mike" that whichever team drafts Sam will not be hurt.

"I know that the union will accept him with open arms, as will our players," Foxworth said Monday morning.

Foxworth, who is set to step down as the NFLPA's acting president next month, acknowledged that Sam likely will encounter some "difficult patches" in his transition to the NFL. But Foxworth also believes that Sam's future teammates will support him.

"The team's gonna build up around their teammate, and it's going to galvanize the team," Foxworth said. "Everyone's talking about how this could disrupt the locker room. Some NFL locker rooms need disrupting, to be frank. Coaches go through a lot of different things to try to build a bond between the team, and what's going to build a bond more than having a player that all the guys know is kind of a target for opposing fans and maybe a target for opposing players?

"That type of stuff is what makes you build up around a guy, and Missouri seemed to have a pretty good season. So I expect whatever team he goes to is not going to be adversely affected. If anything, they could be positively affected by adding a man like that."

Sam led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last season, helping Missouri reach the SEC championship game.

Most NFL draft projections see Sam as a midround pick, with some saying he could go as high as the third round with a possible position switch to outside linebacker. Sam is rated as the 12th-best outside pass-rusher in the draft by ESPN Scouts Inc.

"I just want to go to the team who drafts me," Sam said Sunday. "Because that team knows about me, knows that I'm gay, and also knows that I work hard. That's the team I want to go to."

Several current NFL players, including DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Martin, took to Twitter to express their support for Sam.

Martin, who has alleged he was the victim of bullying in the Miami Dolphins' locker room, tweeted that Sam has "guts."

But Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence tweeted that Sam's presence could be "a distraction" in an NFL locker room.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said in a recent interview with NFL Network that he questioned whether an openly gay player would be accepted in an NFL locker room.

"I think that he would not be accepted as much as we think he would be accepted," Vilma said during the interview, which was before Sam's announcement. "I don't want people to just naturally assume like we're all homophobic. That's really not the case.

"Imagine if he's the guy next to me and I get dressed naked, taking a shower, the whole nine [yards], and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?"

Vilma clarified his comments Monday night when he appeared on CNN.

"People are resistant to change at times," Vilma said on "Anderson Cooper 360." "And it's not just as simple as coming into the locker room. My words, it was a poor illustration of the example I was trying to give on the context so I do apologize for that. I was trying to explain that whenever you have change into something that's been set in stone for so long or you've had something that's been going for so long, that change always comes with a little resistance.

"It was a poor choice of an example that I used, so I apologize for that."

And while Vilma said Sam's decision to come out publicly "says a lot about his character and who he is as a person," he noted that Sam will likely encounter some difficulties in the locker room.

"It's not to say that the locker rooms are bad," Vilma explained. "It's to say that there are going to be people that accept it willingly as soon as he comes in, welcome him with open arms. And then unfortunately there will be some, about 99 percent sure the minority will say well they're not comfortable with that yet. They don't know how to respond to that."

But Foxworth argued that any team would benefit from drafting Sam.

"I don't know how anyone could concoct a story that could lead you to believe that a team would be worse off for having added Michael Sam," Foxworth said.

Sam said that despite some comments from current players, he doesn't anticipate difficulty gaining acceptance in an NFL locker room.

"Hopefully it will be the same like my locker room," he said. "It's a workplace. if you've ever been in a Division I or pro locker room, it's a business place. You want to act professional."

Foxworth acknowledged that Sam's announcement might have affected his draft stock but feels that he "definitely" will be a player in the NFL.

"I've heard and read a lot about how people think it could affect him, and that may be true," Foxworth said. "That's a risk that he's taking, but I think he'll definitely get in the league.

"I think it's obviously going to be something different. It's something that's never happened before, and I don't want to pretend that it's going to be a nonissue. I think it's going to be a small deal inside the locker room, but kind of a big deal outside the locker room."

ESPN's Chris Connelly contributed to this report.

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